Document Type

Journal Article


This article examines the growth of the secessionist movement in Western Australia, which culminated in the referendum of 1933 and the presentation of a petition to secede by the government of Western Australia to the British Parliament. The attempt by Western Australia to secede from the Australian Federation remains important today because it illustrates the problem which perennially arises with regard to secession in democratic federations. This problem involves the two defining elements of a democratic federation, viz. the democratic process and the federal structure. There are two competing alternatives in such situations. On the one hand, there is the view that the expressed will to secede of a majority of the electorate with a constituent part of a federation should be given effect, by virtue of the legitimising force of the democratic process. On the other hand, there is the view that such decisions represent only the expressed will of a minority, by virtue of that electorate being considered in relation to the entire population of the existing federal structure. The attempted secession of Western Australia, and the response of the Joint Select Committee of the British Parliament, shows how this problem was dealt with in the context of the Australian Constitution.